Thursday, January 19, 2017

Sir Ranulph Fiennes Pulls Plug on Aconcagua Summit Attempt

It looks like Sir Ranulph Fiennes will have to wait a little bit longer to complete his attempt to complete the Adventurers Grand Slam. According to the BBC, the 72-year old British explorer has had to abandon his attempt to summit Aconcagua, the tallest mountain in South America, after experiencing severe back pain during the final stages of the expedition. Fiennes says that he is "very frustrated" by the situation.

The climb was part of Fiennes – who has been called "the world's greatest living explorer" – attempt to join the elite club of men and women who have reached both the North and South Poles, as well as topped out on the Seven Summits. He has undertaken this challenge to raise funds for the Marie Curie Foundation, which has been a frequent recipient of his charity work over the years. To date, he has summited Everest, Kilimanjaro, Elbrus, and Vinson. That would leave him with Denali and Carstensz Pyramid, in addition to Aconcagua.

According to reports, Sir Ran was within just a few hours of the 6961-meter (22,841 ft) summit of Aconcagua, which is not only the highest peak in South America, but the tallest outside of the Himalaya too. But, the explorer was in too much pain to continue upwards, and had to be assisted back down the mountain instead. He was then air lifted to Mendoza, Argentina, where he is reportedly in good condition. He'll now head home to the U.K. to consult with his doctor before proceeding any further with his plans.

In embarking on this challenge, Fiennes hoped to become the first person to traverse both polar ice caps and complete the Seven Summits. You may recall that he earned his stripes as an explorer by visiting the coldest places on the planet on multiple occasions. He has come to mountaineering a bit late in life, not summiting Everest until 2009 at the age of 66. Later he would add summits of Kilimanjaro and Everest, before embarking on what he calls the Global Reach Challenge in 2016. Whether or not he'll continue with those efforts remains to be seen, but considering his resume, I would assume that unless this is a very serious injury, he'll be back at it as soon as possible.

Get well soon Sir Fiennes.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Video: Explore the Underwater Kaleidoscope of Cortes Banks

Located 100 miles off the coast of San Diego, Cortes Banks has become a refuge for a stunning array of wildlife. In this video, we travel to that place, and dive with underwater explorer Brian Skerry, who takes us into this amazing place of vibrant colors and beautiful sea creatures. It is an extraordinary spot that few people ever get the chance to see, but you can spend three minutes there with his video.

Video: The Battle for Birthday Mountain - Giving Finland it's Highest Peak

Finland is approaching the 100th anniversary of its independence, and neighboring Norway has come up with an idea for a unique birthday present – a mountain. Yep, that's right. Norway wants to give Finland Halti Peak – a 1365 meter (4478 ft) mountain that would become the Fins' highest point. But how exactly does one country give another a mountain? In this amazing short film, we'll explore that very idea. This is an amazing story to say the least.

Battle for Birthday Mountain from MEL Films on Vimeo.

TrailFoody is a Monthly Subscription Box That Keeps You Fed on the Trail

Subscription box services become all the rage over the past couple of years, with options ranging from geeky gifts for your favorite nerd to high fashion options. Heck, we've even seen some made for outdoor enthusiasts, including Cairn and BivySak. But now, a new subscription box is on the scene, and it wants to send you healthy, nutritious snacks to take with you on all of your outdoor adventures.

TrailFoody is a recent start-up that hopes to take the drudgery out of picking food to take with you on your hikes, mountain bike rides, paddling excursions, and camp outings. Each month, the service will send you a box filled with energy bars, dried fruits, nuts, trail mix, energy drinks, and more. Those treats come from such partners as Tanka, Justin's, and Epic Provisions, and everything is stored in a nice little compression sack that makes it all very easy to pack and carry. Best of all, the items that are sent to you in the box are specifically selected to provide energy for active pursuits, and most avoid artificial preservatives of any kind, nor are they genetically modified in any way. Many are completely organic too.

The subscription service offers three tiers starting with "The Wanderer," which offers enough goodies for 1-2 outings at a price of $21.95. That box includes 1 trail lunch and the equivalent of 4 energy bars. The second tier is dubbed "The Pathfinder" and offers enough food for 3 outings, including 3 trail lunches and 6 energy bars for $43.95, while "The Intrepid" level provides 4 trail lunches and 8 energy bars each month at a cost of $53.95.

Recently I received a sampling of the TrailFoody offering, and I have to be honest. Prior to getting my own box, I thought that the prices were pretty steep for products that we all probably keep around the house anyway. But, after sifting through the package that was sent my way, I have to admit that I'm pretty impressed. My TrailFoody box was filled with more goodies than I expected, and I've been happily munching away on them for awhile now. Sure, spending $22 a month to have energy bars and other assorted snacks sent to your door is a bit lavish, but if you lead a busy lifestyle, and don't have time to shop for these items yourself, you'll probably really appreciate it the next time you're heading out to the trail.

If this sounds like something you'd be interested in trying, TrailFoody is giving Adventure Blog readers half off their first month. Simply enter the promo code: ADVENTUREBLOG in at checkout to receive the discount.

Happy trail and happy snacking!

Whitewater Rafting Team Narrowly Misses Grand Canyon Record

A team of eight whitewater rafters missed setting a new speed record for rowing down the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon this week when their raft was punctured in the attempt. The group spent nearly 40 hours out on the water, but came up short in their epic attempt to cover the 277 mile distance as quickly as possible.

The 8-person squad, which includes the 6-man U.S. Whitewater Rafting team had been planning the Grand Canyon run for years, but received new incentive in 2016 when a new speed record was set. For years, the time to beat had been 36 hours, 38 minutes held by Kenton Grua, Rudi Putsches and Steve Reynolds since 1983. But last year, solo kayaker Ben Orkin set a new record by running the entire stretch in just 34 hours and two minutes.

Unfortunately for this team, the final time was 39 hours, 24 minutes, but they were slowed down greatly in their efforts thanks to the punctured raft, which couldn't be fixed properly while on the water. That left one of the raft's tubes almost completely deflated, causing way too much drag to overcome. A strong headwind didn't help their efforts either.

Still, the team wasn't feeling sorry for themselves. They seemed to enjoy the adventure, even though they didn't set a new record along the way. After all, traveling through the Grand Canyon is always an amazing experience, and for some it was the first go at the Colorado River. There is no word yet on if they'll return to try for the record a second time, but something tells me we haven't heard the last of this crew.

Read the entire story about their rafting expedition here. It has a lot of great moments and some big challenges that they faced along the way.

Antarctica 2016: More Updates From the Ice

Yesterday I mentioned that the 2016-2017 Antarctic season is quickly coming to an end, and that updates would probably be few and far between moving forward. But, it turns out there is still more to tell, and although the end is indeed in sight, things aren't quite done yet. I have a couple of stories to share from the frozen continent, as well as a few corrections form my previous post too.

We'll start with an update on the Halley VI research station, which you might recall I wrote about back in early December. At the time, it was revealed that the station would have to be relocated due to a massive ice crack opening across the surface. That crack was forcing a large section of ice along the surface of the continent to shift towards the sea, and Halley VI found itself on the wrong side of the equation.

The original plan was to wait until this season was over, then close the base in preparation for moving it to a new – safer – location. Now, it has been announced that the research station has been shut down early as a precautionary measure, as another crack has been discovered near by that could expedite the shifting of the ice even further. Halley VI is in the process of being relocated however, so hopefully it will be repositioned in a safer location soon. The entire station was designed to be mobile, and is now being transferred to a spot some 23 km (14 miles) away from its current location.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Video: Meet The Snow Guardian

Meet billy barr (yes, that's how he spells it!), a man who has lived alone in a cabin near Gothic, Colorado for 40 years. Over that time, he has been keeping meticulous records of the weather, how much snow has fallen, what the temperature on any given day is, and so on. Those records are now proving invaluable to climate scientists, who view billy as an invaluable resource. This is his story, as told by National Geographic.

Video: Kite Skiing in Alaska

If you've read my updates on the progress of the explorers in Antarctica this season, you've no doubt seen a few mentions of kite skiers out on the ice. What is kite skiing actually? It is the use of a large kite to catch the wind, and pull you along across the snow and ice. If wind speeds are good, it can provide a lot of speed, allowing skiers to cover surprising distances in a short amount of time.

In this video we travel to another frozen landscape, as we follow skier Damien Leroy to Alaska where he does some kite-skiing of his own. In the two-minute clip you'll get a chance to see how kite-skiing works, and just how fast it can propel someone along. The results just might surprise you.

The 20 Most Important Products From Winter Outdoor Retailer Ranked

If you haven't quite had your fill of gear news just yet, I have yet another article sharing the best new gear from the Outdoor Retailer show, held last week in Salt Lake City. This time, the list comes to us courtesy of Men's Journal, which ranks the most important new products that were revealed at the conference.

All told, there are 20 different pieces of gear that earn a spot on the MJ list, and while I didn't have a chance to see all of these, I did see more than a few of them. Some of the products that make the cut include updated running shoes from both Hoka One One and Altra, a sweet new down jacket from Montane, and a non-technical crampon from Yaktrax. You'll also find a variety of new products that are on the cutting edge in terms of technology and design that helps these items stand out from the crowd and do some truly innovative things in helping us to stay outdoors longer and enjoy our time there more fully.

While I don't necessarily agree that these are the 20 most important products on display at Outdoor Retailer, I definitely feel that most of the gear on this list are impressive updates for sure. Depending on your own personal outdoor passions, you'll find a lot to love here, with some new equipment that will definitely spark your attention. In fact, there are even a few items on the list that may get you interested in an activity that you hadn't considered before. This is definitely the case with the number one item on this countdown, which I won't reveal here. Needless to say however, I have seen this product personally, and think that it is going to be a lot of fun to use next winter.

Most of the gear that Men's Journal shares here won't be available for months yet. In fact, the vast majority of the items I saw at the show are not slated to begin shipping until Fall/Winter 2017-2018. That's the problem with attending a show like OR. It gets you very excited for new gear, but than makes you wait for months before you can get your hands on it. Still, most of this stuff is going to be worth the wait. Trust me!

Nepali Liaison Officer Dies of Altitude Sickness Near Everest

Sad news from the Himalaya today, where it was revealed that a liaison officer working with the only winter expedition to Mt. Everest has passed away due to altitude sickness. The government official was airlifted to Lukla via an emergency helicopter flight, but all efforts too save him proved fruitless.

According to The Himalayan Times, Padam Jung Rai was the liaison officer assigned to support Alex Txikon and Carlos Rubio in their efforts to summit Everest this winter. As required by law, Rai traveled with the climbers to the Khumbu region of Nepal to monitor the team's progress on the mountain and facilitate communications between them and government officials back in Kathmandu. But, the LO took ill while in Lobouche, and was assisted by a group of Sherpas in his descent down to Tukla at 4000 meters (13,123 ft) where it was hoped that his symptoms would subside. When he took a turn for the worse, a helicopter was dispatched to retrieve Rai, who was flown to Lukla for emergency treatment, which was ineffective.

As part of the climbing requirements on the higher mountains in Nepal, teams are required to pay a $3000 fee to cover the expenses of having a liaison officer with them in Base Camp. That officer's job is to ensure that climbers follow all of the rules and regulations set down by the Nepali government, and to facilitate any needs that might arise. The LO's are often criticized for never leaving Kathmandu however, which has caused some issues in recent years.

Rai was sent to Everest to work with Txikon and Rubio, the first winter expedition to that mountain in years. Conditions are of course more demanding during that harsh season, although it is unclear if that played a role in his death.

Meanwhile, the two Spanish climbers are back in Base Camp after having climbed as high as Camp 2 on the mountain. They are resting comfortably, regaining their strength and preparing for their next rotation up the mountain. Txikon is hoping to summit Everest during the winter without the uses of supplemental oxygen, something that has only been done very rarely in the past. So far, the expedition is proceeding well, although weather conditions will ultimately dictate success or failure.

My condolences go out to the friends and family of Padam Jung Rai. Hopefully, the rest of the expedition will proceed safely.

Antarctica 2016: The End in Sight

Update: It seems the information I received on Emma Kelty's condition was incorrect. While she did go to the hospital as reported, it was to receive a round of antibiotics and not for other reasons stated below. She was also out on the ice for 50.5 days as well.

It has been more than a week and a half since we last posted an update on the progress of the various Antarctic skiers. Over that time, a lot has happened, with several comings and goings from the South Pole, arrivals back at the coast, and other happenings – both good and bad. Now, as the end of the season is in sight, there is much to tell.

We'll start with Johanna Davidsson, the solo female skier who reached the Pole in record time a few weeks back. After setting that impressive mark, Johanna wasn't content to just get on a plane and fly back to Union Glacier, but instead kite-skied back to the coast. She completed that trip quickly as well, wrapping up her return trip on January 10. It has been a very productive season for her to say the least.

The other female skier that we watched closely this season was Brit Emma Kelty, who spent 52 days out on the ice skiing from Hercules Inlet to the South Pole. She reached that point back on January 5, and was then flown back to Union Glacier having abandoned her attempt at a return trip after running out of time. A few days later she flew to Punta Arenas, Chile as well where she was immediately hospitalized  for dehydration, a lung infection, and a bad case of polar thigh. That last ailment strikes the upper legs in very cold conditions, and is caused by the friction of fabric and skin when rubbed together over a long period of time. It can cause extreme irritation and even a nasty infection, which can be very painful if left untreated. Unfortunately, Emma wasn't able to do much about it until after she was off the ice, which had made for a painful wound. Thankfully, she was released from the hospital last week, and flew home to the U.K. on Friday the 13th.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Video: Kayaking Through Underground Caves in Mexico

In this video, we join kayakers Rafa Ortiz, Jared Meehan, and Andrew Pollock as they head to southern Mexico to explore a system of underground rivers that pass through an intricate cave system. There aren't any massive waterfalls to drop, or Class V rapids to run, but there is a great sense of exploration and adventure as they paddle through this otherworldly environment. Catch a glimpse of a part of our planet that few ever get a chance to see, and marvel at what these intrepid kayakers find as they drift along.

Video: How to Survive an Unexpected Night in the Backcountry

Despite our best laid plans for outdoor adventure, sometimes things don't go as expected. On occasion, this can lead to being stranded in the backcountry overnight, when you had originally planned to just be out for the day. What should you do in these occasions? The video below – hosted by none other than Timmy O'Neill – can help. At a little more than two minutes in length, this clip if filled with good suggestions on how to comfortably survive the night outdoors, even when you haven't planned for it. Some of the information is just good logic, and probably something that many of you already know. But, there are also some solid pieces of advice that could make a difference should you find yourself in this situation in the future.

Video: Through the Khumbu Icefall on Everest in the Winter

At the moment, Spanish mountaineer Alex Txikon is attempting a winter ascent of Everest – a rare feat to say the least. During this time of the year, the mountain is abandoned, which leaves Alex and his team to do all of the work themselves, including building a path through the dreaded Khumbu Icefall. In this video, we get to see that hard work taking place, as the squad carefully puts a series of ropes and ladders into place that allow them to cross over the dangerous crevasses that are found in the Icefall. As you'll see, this is not work for the faint of heart, but it is necessary if the want to reach the upper flanks of the mountain. Keep in mind, during the spring there is a special team called the "Ice Doctors" who do this work for the hundreds of other climbers that are on the Nepali side of the mountain. But during the winter, there is no such luxury.

The Best New Gear From Winter Outdoor Retailer 2017

Last week, the biggest brands in the outdoor industry descended on Salt Lake City, Utah to show off their latest creations at the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market. As usual, there were more jackets, boots, backpacks, sleeping bags, and tents than you could ever hope to see in such a short period of time, although those of us in attendance certainly gave it our best try. Over the course of the past week, a number of media outlets have shared their selections for the very best new gear to make its debut at the show, allowing you the consumer to get a sneak peek at some of the great products that will be arriving in our favorite gear shops in the months ahead. Here is just sampling of what earned some of that recognition.

Over at the Gear Institute, we handed out our semi-annual Best New Gear Awards, recognizing 9 new products that we thought were innovative an interesting. Amongst them were a gas-powered generator from Goal Zero and a new way to create custom insoles for our shoes. Similarly, the crew at Outside magazine handed out five awards for their favorite new products, while Popular Mechanics discovered 8 items that their editorial staff found noteworthy too.

Interestingly enough, there isn't a lot of crossover between the items that make all of the lists, which should give you an idea of just how diverse the products on display at OR truly are. The general consensus amongst those attending the show was that there were few products that were truly revolutionary this time out, but a lot of really nice new gear that made strides forward in terms of incremental improvements.

If you're looking for a very comprehensive rundown of some of gear that was on display, Gear Junkie took a first-look at a wide variety of products. Their team went beyond just naming a few award winners, but instead gave a very good overview of a number of interesting products that were unveiled at the show.

As for me, I may well share my favorite items from Winter Outdoor Retailer over the next few days too. I'm still decompressing from the show and getting back on track at home, but I definitely have some thoughts on what stood out as the most interesting to me. I'll have more to come on this topic soon I'm sure.

Winter Climbs 2017: Climbers in Base Camps and Moving Up

Now that the holidays have come and gone, I've managed to move to a new house, and the Winter Outdoor Retailer Show is behind us, we can finally return to some sense of normalcy around here. To do that, we'll get things started with an update from the major winter climbs that are now taking place in various parts of the world, beginning on Everest where Alex Txikon and his team are making solid progress.

Last week, the small group of climbers, support staff, and documentarians arrived in Base Camp on Everest, and immediately went to work establishing a base of operations there. It did't take them long to get ready however, and within a few days they were already moving up the mountain to begin their acclimatization efforts. The team then spent four days building a route through the treacherous Khumbu Icefall, before they were then presented with favorable weather conditions that allowed them to move up further.

Taking advantage of these good conditions, the climbers moved through the Icefall and up to 5870 meters (19,258 ft), where they spent the night at a provisional location. The following morning, they continued up to 6050 meters (19,849 ft), where they established Camp 1. Since then, they have climbed a bit higher as they scout the route, install ropes, and work to reach Camp 2 further up the slopes.

Reportedly, the climbing is even more difficult and demanding than they had thought, but things are proceeding according to plan. They should return to BC for rest shortly, but are continuing to try to make progress while the weather cooperates. For now, they are happy with how things are going, and the idea of a winter ascent of Everest remains a very high possibility.

Friday, January 06, 2017

Heading to Outdoor Retailer!

I know we've only just returned from the holiday break, and just started getting back to normal around here, but it is already time for me to head off once again. I'll be spending most of next week in Salt Lake City attending Outdoor Retailer Winter Market, where I'll spend several days getting a sneak peek at the latest outdoor gear and apparel. When I return, I'll write a couple of post sharing my thoughts on the show, and the best new items that I saw there. But, if you'd like to get a sense of what's happening while the show is going on, follow me on Twitter or like my Facebook page. I'll be posting updates throughout the event with thoughts on the things that catch my eye. 

Today and tomorrow I'll also be spending my time relocating The Adventure Blog world headquarters to its new, permanent location. While I'm getting my office set up and running once again, there may be some temporary disruptions in posting. But, I hope to be ready to get back on a regular schedule after I get back from OR at the end of next week. 

Thanks for being patient while we work through these busy couple of weeks. With the holidays now behind us, and Outdoor Retailer just about to start, 2017 is about to get rolling. Stay tuned for lots of great adventures and inspiring stories to come. It should be a great year.

Video: The 10 Deadliest Mountains in the World

Lets face it, mountaineering comes with some inherent risks, no matter when and where you're climbing. But, thanks to technical difficulties, unpredictable weather, and unique terrain, some mountains are obviously more dangerous than others. In this video we explore the 10 deadliest mountains in the world, giving us a look at some truly scary places, but ones that are also incredibly alluring too. If you've ever wondered which peaks make even the best alpinists in the world take pause, these are the ones. Make sure you know what you're doing before setting out to an expedition to one of these peaks.

Video: Nordic Skiing in Norway with Karoline

Meet Karoline. She isn't a world-class athlete with a bushel of sponsors. She's simply a woman who loves the outdoors, particularly when she is cross-country skiing in her home country of Norway. In this video, we join her out on the trail in one of the most beautiful winter landscape you could ever hope to see. If you've never thought about Nordic skiing before, this clip will certainly leave you intrigued and wanting to try it yourself. Enjoy.

Antarctica 2016: Two More Skiers Close in on the Pole

With time starting to run short at the bottom of the world, the teams skiing to the South Pole this season – and possibly beyond – are starting to feel the pinch. Most still have plenty of time to reach their final destination, but some are now altering their plans. With just three weeks to go until the season wraps up, it is crunch time on the Frozen Continent, and we should expect more arrivals at 90ºS shortly. In fact, two of the explorers should be at that point today.

First up, Emma Kelty expected to arrive at the Pole either yesterday or today, but she hasn't posted an update on where she is at just yet. She was closing in on her destination a few days back, but elected to slow down and savor her final days on the ice instead. Now, she should be at the Amundsen-Scott Research Station, although we're still awaiting word confirming that arrival.

If you've been following Emma's expedition you may be asking yourself why these are her "final days" on the ice. That's because she has decided to pull the plug on her efforts to ski back to Hercules Inlet. Because of a late start to the season – mostly due to weather delays – she simply doesn't have enough time to cover the 1285 km (700 miles) to get back to her starting point. On top of that, she has been battling a lung infection, which she has recovered from now, but it also served to slow her down some. Add in the fact that her supplies are dwindling too, and you can understand why she has given up on the idea of the return trip. Hopefully she is resting comfortably at the Pole right now, and awaiting a return flight to Union Glacier.

Emma isn't the only skier who is closing in on the South Pole. Mike Horn has made short work of his kite-ski journey, finding favorable winds over the past few days. Yesterday he covered 170 km (105 miles) alone, and is now within the last degree. That means that if he has any kind of wind today, he should arrive at the Pole in short order. Of course, this is just the midway point of his expedition, as he'll continue on to the coast where his shim – the Pangea – will be waiting to pick him up. Unlike most of the other skiers, Mike isn't working on a set timeline because he has his own lift off the continent. That said, if he continues at his current pace, it won't take him long to reach the coast again and continue on his Pole 2 Pole journey.